Kill or cure? It’s elementary at Wellcome Collection’s late event
Friday 8 April, 19.00–23.00
Wellcome Collection opens late on
Friday 8 April for Elements, a spectacular night of chemical
romance, intrigue and performance. We’ll be filling the whole
building with arsenic, iodine, oxygen and mercury. Four elements:
all have been used in medicine, yet each can be lethal. Bringing
together beauty and danger, health and hazard, Elements runs from
19.00 to 23.00.
See your reflection in a deadly pool of
mercury, as our quicksilver pools reveal the rippling beauty of
this lethal element, and discover paintings full of mercury and
arsenic, whose vermillion and green pigments rely on toxic
compounds for their brilliance. Put arsenic on trial as a judge and
prosecutor revisit famous cases of arsenic poisoning, from Napoleon
to Mme Bovary, and call on the audience as witnesses and jury.
Biogeochemist Andy Meharg will be on hand to talk about the
historical prevalence and dangers of arsenic and its present-day
abundance in the water supply of millions of people.
The freshest breath you are ever likely to
take is on offer at our pure oxygen bar - our average inhalation
carries a mere 21 per cent of the element. Once you've filled your
lungs at the bar you can listen to biochemist and writer Nick Lane
talk about the element's central role in life - and death. Andrew
Szydlo will be running the chemical experiments that the earliest
alchemists used to uncover oxygen, introducing visitors to the
extraordinary world of Cornelius Drebbel and his mystery
Bathe in the light created by our four
elements in artist Henny Burnett's multimedia installation, which
uses candles burning oxygen, iodine halogen lamps, mercury vapour
lamps and LEDs based on arsenic. There will be tales about the
self-experimenting JS Haldane, and singer and pianist Virginia
Firnberg will be bringing our elements together in song.
Food writer and self-styled gastronaut Stefan
Gates will be blending anti-oxidising cocktails, and in the Iodine
Messy Play Area, you'll find out how to tell both temperature and
time with an element best known for its disinfecting
Open yourself to the Elements at Wellcome
Collection from 19.00 to 23.00 on Friday 8 April. Entry is free.
Drop in anytime. Some talks and performances will be ticketed;
tickets will be available on the night of the event only.
Meet our star elements
Arsenic is a semi-metal best known today for
its regular appearance in murder mysteries. Arsenic compounds
stimulate the metabolism and were once regarded as a cure-all.
Their reputation continues to the present day, with the development
of modern treatments for syphilis and leukaemia.
Iodine was discovered accidentally in 1813
when seaweed was employed to make saltpetre for gunpowder. Its
shiny black crystals vaporize to form a beautiful violet gas. Its
relatively mild disinfectant properties make it suitable for
treating minor cuts. Today, rare isotopes of iodine are used in
medical diagnosis and radiation therapy.
Mercury is one of the handful of chemical
elements known in antiquity and the only liquid metal. Alchemists
believed that it held the key to the transmutation of base metals
into gold. Through the ages, mercury has had many uses - from
ornamental garden pools to dental fillings. Today, it is banned
from many applications because it is highly poisonous.
Oxygen is the third most abundant element in
the universe and makes up one-fifth of the earth's atmosphere. Any
change in this proportion - either up or down - would threaten
humankind. It is highly reactive and is able to corrode metals and
destroy natural organisms. Oxygen is thus regarded both as the
stuff of life and as a hastener of ageing.
'Elements' is curated by Andrea Sella,
Professor of Chemistry at UCL, and Hugh Aldersey-Williams, author
of the new book 'Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the
Elements', published by Viking.
NOTES TO EDITORS
Senior Media Officer
T 020 7611 8612
Collection is a free visitor destination for the
incurably curious. Located at 183 Euston Road, London,
Wellcome Collection explores the connections between medicine, life
and art in the past, present and future. The building comprises
three gallery spaces, a public events programme, the Wellcome
Library, a café, a bookshop, conference facilities and a members'
Wellcome Collection is part of the Wellcome Trust, a
global charity dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in
human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in
biomedical research and the medical humanities; its breadth of
support including public engagement, education and the application
of research to improve health. The Trust is independent of
both political and commercial interests.